|L-R Julie Finn, Susan Veale, Ronnie Shuler|
I am grateful for your hard work and your honesty.
"You haven't posted about your class so I am guessing things didn't go well" said my good friend Tommy Baker. I didn't know what to say. Like all the other truly momentous events of my life it is hard to put a handle on it. It's like asking if I was happy when Ella was born. I am happy that Ella WAS born, but when she was on her way into this world the moment was bigger than what the concept of happiness can contain. I was present. I did my small part. I am different now than I was before. I was a man. Now I am a Father. And although I had a lot more to do to fully participate in this event, before the class I was still a student of Art. During the class I was a Teacher, and that feeling has clung to me. I like it and I want that feeling again. I should note that I have taught before. I taught Lighting Design for The Governor's School for the Arts and I am proud of those eight great Summers. Lighting Design, however, has never been intrinsic to how I thought of myself; not the way works with paper have been. I will also add that, for now, I do not feel that I am worthy of calling myself an Art Teacher. I am a proud student of the Teaching of Art.
Here Is what I learned:
- Five hours is a long time to do anything. Even if you do like it, but especially if you are passionate about it.
- You can't teach feelings. By working on incredibly large works in college, where I was literally throwing paint across an twelve foot piece of paper, the feeling associated with applying pigment is "Big Muscle". It starts in my feet and legs, moves through my body then shoulders and arms and out of my hands with with a feeling of a tidal flow. It is big. The size of the brush stroke or line does not matter now, it can be a fraction of an inch long, but it will always be this way for me because I love it. But I do not know how to teach it short of offering the same experience to my students. But If I could teach it, that sense of painting with pure abandon, I would be a Teacher. I have hope. In this class format ,however, what I could do is only do one flower and leave more open space to experiment with out feeling constrained by the composition. It is not a lot of area but I think it would make a difference. It would help with the amount of time it takes to finish.
- The Image is the Thing. I love my techniques for applying color. This is of course why my collages take as long as they do. I love to see ink flow into the paper. I love to feel the paint pass between the tips of my fingers and the surface of my image. For me that living membrane of paint is analogous to human consciousness. The feeling of what passes between flesh and the rest of the world and the beautiful artifact that is left behind. It is how I would describe my life if I were a better poet or a better philosopher. Then I would be able to give that experience to my students. But that is not what they have come for. They have come for the chance to create an image. That is a big thing. It is a noble cause, and I should have had enough respect for that to anticipate and prepare appropriately. I use a lot of tracing techniques to get the image I want. I was afraid, however, they would find these insulting. Most people are of the opinion you must have a level of "Skill" (usually defined as fine motor control) to create Art. While this capability facilitates artwork it is not Art. Why did Vermeer paint all but one of his paintings in the same room? He could not take his Camera Obscura outside.
My students would not have shown up if they didn't believe they had Art inside them. In the future I will approach my duty as creating the widest possible path for them. I could create a couple of templates for the petals for instance. One tool I came up with specifically for this class was a piece of plexiglass they could use to trace either my composition or their interpretation. One thing they had a problem was reinterpreting the design when the initial outlines had been obscured by the techniques we used for the water; this tool would help with that. One student used this for the Koi very successfully and the next time I will have this aid ready for everyone.
The most important thing I learned is this: I need to lighten up. I spent a long time preparing and procuring for this class. Most of this was essential and made a difference in the outcome. The profound sense of responsibility I felt before, during and after, however, had a more dubious effect. The students all seemed to have their own motivations but they all contributed their own part towards a positive experience. We all felt some level responsibility and acted responsibly. It wasn't all on me. This is part of the joy of learning in a class environment. The next time I will be more open this beautiful experience.
Building a studio external to our house has allowed me to begin an additional mission for One Child's Icon. I will be teaching a class in collage through The Skillery. I am using one of my earlier works as an image and at the end of the 5 hour class everyone will be taking home their own version of Rowena's favorite work of mine.
We will begin with a canvas I have prepared for each student. They are 11 X 14 and covered in a layer of Paper. Each surface is unique. The paper never goes on completely smoothly. I have found that these imperfections become part of the composition, and by accepting what each piece of paper allows me to do with it makes the process more rewarding.
Amber is the first color we'll use for the background. I am using acrylic ink here and using the dropper from the bottle but watered down acrylic paint works just as well for this as does a bamboo brush.
I am using a bamboo pen to make streaks that reinforce the composition. I like the irregular edges it gives me.
A lot of good edges here. The water in this image will be much different than the original. After I started my own water gardens I became enchanted by everything that was going on under the surface and I have striven to recreate that energy.
Lots of good stuff here. This is where the imperfections in my base surface become an asset.
One problem I don't face in my day to day is a time constraint. But we have to deal with the moisture in the paper and therefore when it can be applied. So after we get the enough happening we can trace our first petal we will do draw and cut out half of them.
For me it doesn't pay to be to precise. A little bit larger than I need works best. The background they will fit into will change at least two more times.
It looks like a great fit now. But your feeling about these shapes may change as the background progresses.
Ink and matte gel medium for the next layer of texture. We want the mix to be transparent enough that we don't lose the nuances of the first layer. If you choose ink for the amber we will have to apply some matte medium before this step to preserve it.
We'll let the color dry enough that the edges of the ridges are dry. And then with a moist towel remove what is still liquid.
I love this texture technique, but timing is everything. Try an area and move slowly.
Purple is the last color. We'll try a little gloss medium for this one. It keeps a plastic state a little longer.
I call this technique "schmooshing the stuff around kinda willy-nilly" Yes my hands have paint on them often and it usually coincides with a smile on my face.
This technique is not for the weak of artistic heart. I wait till the surface is almost completely dry and squirt water on it. There is no way of knowing what it is going to do with the texture. Art is trusting in your next moment, and this move is about blind trust.
Lots of great lines and layers. None of it planned except to have the edges around the petals dark to offer contrast.
I am obviously back tracking a bit here. The first piece of paper we will add will be the lily pad. It is the source of the energy in the composition so placing it first will give us a solid base for the rest.
Again at this stage precision doesn't pay. Make your shape larger than you need.
I hope you're not disappointed by the quality of the scissors. I like fine tools but they get clogged with acrylic medium before they can wear out or go dull.
I'll have a lot of color options for the lily pad. Ink is nice for this step because it helps preserve the sense of light that comes from the paper.
And here you see why a little larger than necessary is best. Each piece is a negotiation and the paper gets a say it what will be.
The paper we will be using needs a little prep work before it takes color well. This picture of me prepping a petal illustrates why more than a picture of the pad would. You can see one piece curling up. We will spray each and smooth them back into shape. Massaging them in the direction we want the color to flow.
Pure ink for the petals. This is where the work gets personal and interactive. One of the things about using collage for my images of water lilies (I am dedicated to the lilies more than collage), is while I am working on the pieces for the flower they truly seem alive. The object you hold in your hand is very much like the object of which you are creating an image.
For the petals of this lotus the color is on the tips and fades to white at the center. I apply ink with a bamboo brush.
Then comes the water. You get some very interesting effects spritzing it with a spray bottle as the ink moves down the grain of the paper.
Sometimes it helps to break the petal free from the surface of it's support. Every piece is different. More negotiations and discussion with what seems to be an animate object at this phase.
Watching ink flow. Now is the time for patience and getting out of yourself.
Adding a little ink back. You have to be careful with the bamboo brush. They really load up with ink and as soon as you touch them to the paper it flows out quickly.
Another reason I love collage: it is beautiful all over. Some of the pieces I use for support while I am creating pieces for the image are works of art in themselves.
Take a step back and take in what is happening. Not too long however because we have a lot to do.
We use a matte acrylic medium for the glue. Aptly an ample amount to the surface then lay down the petal. You may need to apply a little to the back of the petal. Here I'm also brushing some on the surface.
I don't want to lose all the energy in the background layers, so the exact composition I started with is now optional.
Understanding a 2-dimensional image in this 3-dimensional way will have a big influence on how you draw and paint.
Don't rush to apply all the pieces. Here again is the opportunity to adjust and interact.
I am finished applying gel medium to the petals in these two images. No matter how much you try to flatten them with a brush this is what they will look like when they are wet. They tighten as you dry. This has been an issue for me when I select canvases; they have to withstand intense stretching. When you are finished your surface will be as tight as a snare drum.
The stamen are a simple shape. 8" long about 1/8" wide at the base a tapering to a point. I always cut more than I think I need and always use them all.
If there are imperfections in that shape so much the better. They sometimes flare just a tad close to the tip.
Ink is best for color. I will coat them more than once. You want spectacular color. Artists choice here about the mix.
These required a third coat. This time with an acrylic paint wash.
Deciding when to take them off the surface they are drying on is tricky. Wait too long and they stick; lift too soon and they tear because the moisture makes them weak.
Smooth them out with your fingers. Lay them out in a fan shape that reinforces the energy of the petals.
Start with the center.
Work your way out.
Trimming will be the last step. Again don't worry too much about lumps and bumps in the paper.
They have to be coaxed a little to lay down around the edge. The thin acrylic medium is best but it takes several applications.
Set one, trim one. This step is more fun than it looks.
Think hospital corners.
If we are way behind this may be a stopping point. The Koi is not an after thought but the composition should work without it.
I did this fantail as an homage to the Koi a foul beast took from my garden this Winter.
One long cut.. Feel free to cut off excess as you go just like you would with a jig saw.
This is water color pencil and Derwent water color sticks. Acrylic medium dabbed on with a sea sponge will help save this texture.
We will use the sponge to layer in some color gradations like this raw sienna.
Ready to place on the canvas.
Cutting the fish in several pieces can give help the illusion that the fish was underwater. However this was more effective with the traditional Koi shape.
Carefully cutting a space for the petals.
Here I am drying the Fish piece with a hair dryer. Please bring you own dryer if you can. I think knowing the output of your personal dryer might be helpful.
The last step is layering on glazes with the sponge or brush. What we want is a similar layering effect to the one we use for the water.
Done! This took me around 4 hours and 15 Minutes. I am prone, however, to both lolly gagging and navel gazing. And if you get me started talking about art, someone in the group will have to be the designated border collie to get me back in line. If we go over, we go over. You might not want to promise your attendance at evening church.